Consumers Union calls on Congress to crack down on airlines in wake of United debacle

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Consumers Union aviation consultant William McGee testifies at House hearing on airline customer issues

WASHINGTON, D.C. — William J. McGee, aviation consultant for Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports, is testifying today at a Congressional hearing on airline customer service issues in the aftermath of a United Airlines passenger being dragged off a plane to make room for an airline crew member.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is hearing testimony from McGee and executives from the airline industry today. The committee is carrying the hearing live here.

Video of the airline passenger Dr. David Dao being violently removed from the United flight sparked international outrage and prompted calls for the government to crack down on the airline industry to prevent another such incident.

McGee said, “The abusive treatment of Dr. Dao shocked us all, and powerfully brought home, once again, that consumers are at the mercy of powerful airlines in an ever-more concentrated industry. Airlines increasingly face less competition, and show less interest in how their passengers are treated than in how their passengers can be taken advantage of to increase profits.”

McGee said the United incident highlights one aspect of passenger rights that is badly in need of reining in – the practice of airlines overbooking flights and then not having seats for all passengers who have bought tickets.

McGee said, “We are not aware of other industries in America where the business is given this kind of free license to oversell the product, with so little accountability for failing to deliver.”

While United and other airlines have announced changes in their overbooking policies, McGee said: “Rather than leave overbooking to the discretion of the airlines and their shifting incentives, we would urge this committee to set clear and reasonable guidelines and limits for all airlines to follow, and that all consumers can count on. If airlines want to continue overbooking, the risk should be entirely on the shoulders of the airline making that calculation, rather than involuntarily bumping passengers against their will.”

McGee asserted, “We need a consistent, uniform, comprehensive, clearly written set of passenger rights for U.S. airlines.” These rights should include:

• Clear and consistent guidelines for compensation for flight delays, flight cancellations, and mishandling baggage

• Clear and consistent guidelines for compensation for voluntary relinquishment of a ticketed seat due to overbooking or priority of other passengers; and a clear prohibition on involuntary relinquishment of a ticketed seat due to overbooking or priority of other passengers

• Clear guidelines for involuntary denied boarding and forced removal for safety and security reasons

• Complete airfare transparency, including for all taxes and surcharges, and for all possible ancillary fees, equally available in all booking channels, both online and offline, whether offered through the airlines themselves or offered through third parties

• Enforcement of minimum seat standards to ensure reasonable passenger comfort, address health concerns, and promote safety, including adequate space for effective evacuation

McGee’s written testimony to the committee is online here.

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Consumers Union is the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports. Consumers Union works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications.